Hello, dear readers! Sometimes, when we’re brainstorming ideas for this newsletter, it often leads to conversations within the Vitamin Stree team. Points are argued, articles are cited, and there is a gradual discovery of a way of looking at the world which is different. So, this time, we decided to bring those conversations to you, unfiltered! Here’s just a chat that Nidhi Mathur who’s the Senior Manager for Business Development and I had. We were talking about our favourite literary heroines.
Hey Maanvi! I loved reading the responses from our audience about their favourite heroines in books. It got me thinking about mine. My first literary obsession, even before the magical series by the TERF-who-shall-not-be-named, was The Princess Diaries. Mia Thermopolis felt like an older sister, I wanted my life to mimic hers (minus the princess part). She's the reason I started journaling when I was young, a habit I continue as an adult. And yes, while the series is very boy-crazy, it is a masterclass in female friendships. I learned so much from how she established boundaries with her best friend Lilly and how she unlearned her own biases and internalized misogyny to become friends with Lana Weinberger. Did you read The Princess Diaries? Who were your favourite heroines growing up?
Oh my god! I loved Princess Diaries too. There was something so refreshing about seeing a heroine who was just like us, you know? Gangly, teenager, still trying to figure life out. While initially I wasn't too sure about how she became friends with Lana, I later realised that there were some valuable lessons in there about how we always see even the "popular" girl through a lens of male gaze. Where she is always supposed to be in competition with the unpopular girl — never her friend. My favourite literary heroine growing up is a cliched answer, but she is still a favourite: Elizabeth Bennet. I read "Pride and Prejudice" when I was in 8th standard. I instantly loved how opinionated, intelligent, and independent she was. She was witty, but that wit was for herself. Not to impress anyone. But I think my enduring lesson from her was on self-respect. It was a wound to her pride and self-respect that led her to reject Darcy's first proposal. And later, even when she says yes to him, she does so while acknowledging her mistakes, and on her own terms. Jane Austen, take all my money!
I remember reading P&P as a teenager and loving it for the romance, but reading it as an adult was a fully different joy. I know the language can seem inaccessible but once you get into it, there's no coming back because her wit is unparalleled. I just want to witness Elizabeth Bennett interact with the world around her in every context with or without Darcy. Also, the plot IS evergreen, hence the 101 adaptations. An adaptation that I loved recently was Ayesha At Last, Pride and Prejudice set in the context of a Muslim immigrant community in Canada.Something I think about a lot is that many of my literary heroines growing up were British or American. I was big into fantasy fiction, so I read the Eragons and Inkhearts and Percy Jacksons of the world. I loved them all, but there was a definite gap in my reading list. Of course, I wasn't in charge of my reading list at all, it was fully dependent on what libraries stocked so I cut some slack for myself there. I remember finding Mistress of Spices by Chitra Divakaruni mistakenly placed in a Young Adult shelf, I was enchanted by the magical realism but mostly I just loved that I was reading names of characters that rolled easily off my tongue. The first time I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrape blew my mind as well, I didn't know writing and art could be that good and was annoyed at the world for keeping it from me. Did you read a lot of books from other parts of the world when you were younger?
Funnily enough, not really. I grew up on a steady diet of Children's Book Trust and National Book Trust books! Which we used to get from the World Book Fair every year. So I read one book which had two kids from Bangalore actually time travelling all the way back to Hampi, when the Vijaynagara kingdom was in its full glory. I also read many children's books by Subhadra Sen Gupta, who passed away recently. And all of them were about young girls like me. But I do remember feeling a sense of wonder at the world of Enid Blyton. I would imagine what a scone is like, because in the 90s when I was reading them, I didn't know what they were like! I would wistfully think of midnight feasts, and English weather. It's so funny how the first heroines of our lives weren't even written for us, right?
Who were the first literary heroines of your life? Write to us, we'd love to know!